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State has sorting out to do regarding accused guards

Oct. 31, 2012 @ 12:18 AM

The director of the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority says he needs the Legislature's help in coming up with better strategies for dealing with the authority's correctional officers accused of breaking the law.

Based on a recent case, he appears to be on target in suggesting that something's amiss.

A 39-year-old Beckley man was terminated from his job as a correctional officer at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver after he was charged with abusing three female inmates. He was accused of trading cigarettes for sex with the inmates, which runs afoul of a law that makes sexual contact between people under supervision and officers, contractors or other staff a felony. The same suspect faces multiple civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct at the jail, and two have been settled out of court, according to published reports.

It would appear that the jail authority had sufficient cause to dismiss the man.

But while the former correctional officer was in that same jail as an inmate awaiting trial, the state cut him a $3,100 severance check. That was in accordance with a law that says a terminated employee must be paid severance within 15 days of dismissal.

As Director Joe DeLong stated, the case makes it plain that the system needs an overhaul. At the least, it seems, in such instances when an employee is accused of breaking the law, a decision on whether severance pay is warranted should await the outcome of the charges. If a correction officer is found guilty of breaking the law, does he or she really warrant a severance check?

DeLong and lawmakers should indeed follow up on this issue and make necessary changes that are fair to employees who face suspension or dismissal, but not overgenerous.

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